gomemphis.com, April 25, 2000

2 Ark. teens who killed father get 6 years

RUSSELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) - Two teenage boys who admitted killing their father pleaded guilty to manslaughter Monday and agreed to a six-year prison term.

Jesse and Neal Eldridge, who were 15 and 14 when their father was shot Jan. 24, 1998, said they killed Ricky Eldridge, 37, to end years of abuse. The two were charged as adults with first-degree murder.

"We were confident about the trial, but they didn't want to put their family, themselves and especially their little sisters through (it)," defense lawyer John Wesley Hall Jr. said Monday.

The boys failed to have their cases moved to juvenile court and their trial was scheduled to start April 10. Jesse Eldridge, however, fell ill with pneumonia, forcing a delay.

While awaiting a new trial date, prosecutors offered to let the boys plead guilty to killing their father.

"It was murder under extreme emotional circumstances," Prosecutor David Gibbons said.

"Age was a factor. The sheriff, Jay Winters, and I both agreed that their age needed to be considered, and this will effectively punish them for what they did. It will also give them a chance for rehabilitation," Gibbons said.

As part of the plea agreement, the boys will be sentenced to prison for six years, with an additional four years suspended. The boys also must receive therapy, obtain a high school diploma and stay out of trouble, Gibbons said.

Circuit Judge John S. Patterson indicated he would approve the deal at a formal sentencing May 24, Gibbons said.

The first-degree murder charge carried a maximum penalty of life in prison with a chance at parole. Hall said the boys could be released in less than a year. Manslaughter is a Class C felony, Hall said, and the boys would be eligible for parole after serving only a sixth of their sentences, instead of the standard one-third.

"We only anticipate them serving one year in jail, maximum, along with credit for time they've already served," Hall said.

When Eldridge was shot on the front porch at the family home southwest of Appleton in Northwest Arkansas's Pope County, his wife, Sonya, and her two daughters, ages 2 and 7, were home, but unharmed, Winters said.

The boys said their father had whipped them after he caught them smoking, then ordered them to each write a 5,000-word essay on not smoking, to be completed before he returned from a trip to Little Rock.

The younger boy said he began the essay, but never finished.

Jesse Eldridge said that, as his father returned, he stood near a corner of the house and Neal Eldridge got on top of a shed.

Jesse said he shot first, firing one bullet from a rifle.

Neal said he shot four times at his father.

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